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The French Problem: Freedom Of Expression Does Not Equate Freedom To Slander

Emmanuel Macron rose to power as a liberal and centrist, yet his antagonistic attitude with the Muslims is appealing to the far right of the French society. The state’s onslaught on the French Muslims seamlessly plays into the right-wing narrative, perhaps an attempt to garner their political endorsement and become a larger-than-life political figure in French history.

Freedom of expression in the West comes with a hypocritical clause – not long ago, in May 2018, a leading German daily fired a cartoonist over “anti-semitic” views after he drew a caricature of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

On 25 April 2019 The New York Time’s international edition (formerly the International Herald Tribune) ran a cartoon by the Portuguese cartoonist António Moreira Antunes, previously published in the Lisbon paper Expresso and depicting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as a guide dog leading a blind Donald Trump.

There was an instant outcry condemning the cartoon’s antisemitic imagery, including in articles and editorials in the New York Times itself. As a result, the paper decided to no longer publish any political cartoons in the international edition.

In response to the French aggression against its Muslim population, the Turkish President’s strong words offended Macron so much that it had the French ambassador called back from Turkey. One distasteful statement wasn’t acceptable to the French President, yet they think they hold the latitude to abuse the honour of the Prophet and hurt the sentiments of 1.8 billion followers – what’s the cacophony with the freedom of expression all about? Hogwash?

The West is well acquainted with Muslims’ love and reverence for Jesus Christ. Not a single Muslim would dare insult any of the Prophets mentioned in the Bible, however, our only bone of contention is the concoction attributed to many Prophets in the Bible – which even some clergy of the Christendom agree that the Bible has not been preserved in its original form, yet there is not an iota of sincerity to understand the life of the beloved Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) in a plausible way.

European and especially the French society’s prejudice with Islam and Muslim is not new, it has historical reverberations right from the time of the crusades.

Conte Henry de La Croix Castries – The French author of the book titled “Islam” recounts in the year 1896: “I cannot imagine what the Muslims would say if they heard the tales of the medieval ages and understood what the Christian orators used to say in their hymns. All our hymns even those that emerged before the 12th century emanated from one concept, which was the cause of the crusades. These hymns were filled with hatred towards the Muslims due to the total ignorance of their religion. Everyone regarded the Muslims as polytheists, disbelievers, idol-worshippers, and apostates.”

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A lethal cocktail of blatant lies and prejudice was injected in the European masses for centuries resulting in the present-day animosity towards Muslims. Freedom of expression is used as a pretext to slander the honour of the Prophet. One cannot draw parallels with expression and slander – specially built on fabrication and rancour.

Muslims are very coherent and unabashed about their theology. Although we don’t agree with the theological point of other religions, there is a very explicit verse in the Qur’ān instructing Muslims to desist from reviling deities of other religions. Not just the Semitic religions, be it Hindu, Buddhist, or even Jain deities.

In the last decade, a decorated Indian painter M.F. Hussain stirred emotions with his distasteful painting offending a large section of the Hindus. Such offensive depiction is absolutely detested according to Islamic principles. There is a definite space for religious discourse, but with an element of evidence, empathy, and grace. If the world wants to debate some Islamic principles in a dignified way, there is room for that as well and Muslims are the last to shy away.

Around 14 million Coptic Christians live in Arab lands, yet they are never oppressed or offended. If the West made a genuine effort to understand Islam and Muslims sans the naivety of the orientalists and the blinkers of bigotry – the world would become a harmonious place without jeopardizing friendly relations.

Written By

Sameer Abdul Majeed is an analyst on historical and current affairs.

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